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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 01-Feb-15


Sunday 01-February-15

Choice blindness and the taste test

When we have options, we think we choose well and know our choices, yet often those decisions are momentary and we might want to change them in the future. This is well illustrated by an experiment by Lars Hull and associates who set up a market stall and gave people a taste of two jams before choosing one. Just before they took away their purchase, they were given one last taste to confirm that this was indeed the jam they wanted. The twist is that in this final taste, they were given the jam they had just rejected, yet 80% said yes, this was just what they had chosen, even though one was Cinnamon-Apple and the other was Grapefruit.

A key point here is that there is a lot of belief in taste. If we believe we are consuming X then we are very likely to taste like X. A typical similar experiment that you can try is to give people cheap wine poured out of an expensive wine bottle. Even experts have been fooled by this into declaring the wine is quite wonderful. Likewise, a cheap meal in a posh restaurant can taste far better than in the corner cafe (and vice versa). It is said that we eat with our eyes. It's more than this: we eat with all our senses plus the complicit help of our subconscious minds. If it looks great, we think, then it must taste good.

Taste testing is fraught with other problems too. In the 1980s, Pepsi rattled Coca Cola with a taste test that had people saying they preferred Pepsi. Coke even changed their formula, to disastrous PR and eventually had to return to the original taste. The trick was that the Pepsi test was a sip test, not glugging a whole bottle. In limited, small sips, Pepsi does indeed taste nice. But then that's because it uses more sugar. When drinking a whole can full, it can be a bit too much. In other words, 'taste' is a limited term that may well need far clearer definition before you can compare things.

Hall L., Johansson P., T?ning B., Sikstr? S. and Deutgen T. (2010). Magic at the marketplace: Choice blindness for the taste of jam and the smell of tea. Cognition, 117, 1, 54-61


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